Walking into your toddler’s room and seeing a line of dolls/cars neatly arranged on the floor may send a chill down your spine. You may start to wonder if they have a medical condition (obsessive-compulsive disorder or autism alarm bells ringing) or if there’s something else going on.

Before you start to panic and Google-diagnose your child, read on. There are many reasons why toddlers may be obsessed with lining up and categorizing their toys. Let’s explore what else might be happening.

Why My Toddler Line Up His Toys?

1. Developing Cognitive Skills

Firstly, it’s normal for toddlers to line up their toys from time to time (with some doing it more frequently than others). It’s a way for them to organize their thoughts and make sense of their surroundings. It’s a sign that they are starting to understand how the world works.

When your toddler starts sorting and grouping their toys, they are beginning to see that there are different categories of objects and that things can be sorted by size, shape, or color. They are developing an understanding of order and structure, and they are starting to see how things can be grouped together. This is an important step in their cognitive development, and it lays the foundation for more complex thinking skills.

Perhaps you could use the behavior as a foundation to strengthen their cognitive development and buy toys that actively encourage your child to think about categorization (e.g. different sizes, colors, shapes, etc.).

2. Toddlers Crave Order and Structure

If you’ve ever spent any time around toddlers, you will know that they can be pretty particular about things. They like their routines and they like things to be a certain way. They want to wear the same shirt every day, they have to have their favorite blanket, and are only happy if their stuffed animals are in a certain order. Why is that?

Well, it turns out that toddlers are hardwired for order and structure. Their brains are still developing and routinely help them to learn and understand the world around them. Toddlers crave order because it gives them a sense of security and belonging. It also helps them to develop new skills and to practice and master the ones they already have.

Move a toy an inch to the left or take away a block from a block tower and all hell breaks loose – why do toddlers have such intense reactions to seemingly small changes?

It’s all about control for toddlers. They like to feel like they are in control of their environment and their toys are a big part of that. When somebody moves their toys, it throws off their sense of control and can lead to a meltdown.

3. Offering Safety and Security

It’s not always easy to avoid moving a toddler’s toys and this need for order can be frustrating for parents. Sometimes you need to tidy up or you just accidentally bump into their carefully constructed toy patterns.

In the midst of toddler tantrums, it’s important to remember that it’s just a phase that all toddlers go through and try to calmly talk to the toddler beforehand and explain what you’re going to do. This way, they can mentally prepare for the toy move and hopefully avoid a meltdown.

Predictability and routine are especially important for anxious toddlers. Parents can reduce anxiety by providing a toddler with a safe and secure environment where they feel loved and protected.

Reassurance and comfort can be in the form of physical touch, verbal reassurance, or even by helping your toddler to understand and cope with their emotions

4. Developing Motor Skills

In addition to developing cognitive skills, sorting and lining up toys is also a way for toddlers to practice their fine motor skills. By manipulating small objects, they are strengthening the muscles in their hands and fingers. This is an important skill for later developmental stages, as it will help them with activities like writing and using scissors.

Is A Toddler Lining up toys a Sign of Intelligence?

There’s no one definitive answer to this question. Some experts believe that toddlers who engage in this type of activity may be showing signs of advanced cognitive awareness. Others would argue that all toddlers engage in this activity (to some degree) and that there’s no special significance to it, apart from being a typical childhood development phase.

Whether your toddler is interested in creating patterns and organizing items or not, it’s important to remember that all children reach milestones at their own pace and develop their own unique skill sets.

There are lots of other ways to tell if your toddler is intelligent. For example, does your toddler like to ask lots of questions? Do they have a good memory? Are they always exploring and trying new things? If so, then chances are, your toddler is quite intelligent!

Does Toddler Lining Up Toys Mean They Have OCD Or Autism? It Depends

Even if your toddler is fixated on lining up toy trains or sorting blocks by color, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are obsessive-compulsive or autistic. Many toddlers go through phases where they are obsessed with organizing and sorting objects. This is perfectly normal behavior and doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong. You might, however, start to notice distinctive behavioral and developmental traits as your toddler gets older.

Age significance

When it comes to playtime, there are some big differences between a 2-year-old and a 3-4 year old. Two-year-olds tend to play in a more solitary fashion, often concentrating on just one activity for long periods of time. They don’t share well with other children and can be quite possessive of their toys. This is because a 2-year-old is still in the process of learning how to interact with others, while a 3-4 year old has (typically) already mastered those social skills.

Therefore 3-4 year olds are usually more social and tend to play in groups. They also share toys more readily and are more able to take turns (reducing their ability to control the outcome in play situations).

Another difference is that 3-4 year olds are increasingly likely to engage in more symbolic play, such as pretending their toys are lined up for a reason or coming up with impersonation scenarios (e.g. “I’ll be the red truck, you can be the red car” etc.). This is because while a 2-year-old is still trying to understand the concept of make-believe, a 3-4 year old has already grasped that concept and is ready to explore it further.

So at three and four years old, most toddlers are engaging in more complex and imaginative play. If you notice that your pre-school toddler remains more focused on obsessively maintaining toy lines in a rigid order than in developing play scenarios (and still has meltdowns when order is disturbed), these may be early warning signs.

Professional Diagnosis

It’s important to recognize, however, that OCD and autism are highly complex conditions and diagnosis usually depends on a wide range of factors. If your toddler is exhibiting other signs of OCD or autism, such as repetitive behaviors, obsessive thoughts or ideas, resistance to change or difficulties with social interaction then it’s worth talking to your health practitioner for more guidance.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, so symptoms can range from mild to severe. If you’re concerned that your toddler may be on the spectrum, the best thing to do is to talk to a developmental specialist. Early diagnosis and intervention can make a big difference in the lives of children with both OCD and autism.

One Last Word

In the end, it’s really up to each parent to decide what they think it means if their child is lining up their toys excessively. If it’s impacting their daily life, and frequently causing your preschool toddler distress, it may be time to talk to a professional.